One of the biggest myths associated to catching liars and spotting deception is that having a higher eye blink rate is a tell tale sign that someone is being deceptive or is out right lying but that is just not the case. As with many myths out there about catching liars, a display of a higher blink rate is associated to stress, not lying. Of course, when we are deceptive in a high stakes situation, like in a job interview, a big meeting with a client or at the final table of a big poker tournament, our level of stress will almost always be higher. And that will probably result in showing some sort of stress related display (a pacifier).
So far in this column, I’ve discussed other pacifying gestures such as exhaling and neck rubbing. There are many form of self-soothing stress related displays, and a high blink rate is one of those displays that is slightly tougher to catch, but if you pay attention and know that it’s out there, you really can’t miss it. Notice also that this tell can very be totally hidden from your opponents if you wear sunglasses (which I always recommend).
The average blink rate is about 10-15 blinks per minute under normal conditions, but it is not uncommon to see someone display over 100 blinks in a minute when that person is stressed.
As an example, let’s watch this video below. Skip to about 2 minutes into the video and watch the blink rate of Harriet Harman, U.K’s Labour's deputy leader, when she speaks.
In the first 20 seconds of the interview, I counted 43 blinks! Wayyyyyyyy above average, probably due to the fact that she is giving a tough interview on television.
So, one of the results of experiencing a higher level of stress can be a higher blink rate. Now don’t forget that stress is not always negative; positive excitement is also some kind of stress, but it is related to a good situation.
In poker, that means that a player showing this tell can have a good hand and a bad hand. But here’s the thing. We usually have our favourites depending on the situation. So if a particular player displays a higher blink rate when he holds a big hand, it is somewhat unlikely he will also show this tell when he is weak. And when you happen to catch this tell in a player that is weak, you can usually safely assume that he will not display it with a big hand.
Let’s look at a few poker hands to sort all of this out.
Ted Forrest on High Stakes Poker
Watch this video of Ted Forrest during the first season of High Stakes Poker:
On the turn, Ted hits bottom pair and bets. Jennifer Harman calls with mid pair. So far so good. Now Ted makes two pair on the river when an ace hits. Watch carefully his eyes at about 1:01. For the next 10 seconds, he shows about 10-12 blinks, which is much higher than the average.
Now notice that Ted Forrest is strong here, not weak. I chose this hand first to remind you that pacifiers are signs of stress and not weakness.
And after watching several videos featuring Ted Forrest, I know that in his case, this is a tell that suggests he is strong.
John Duthie at the WSOP
Start by watching this video:
This hand involves John Duthie and Gus Hansen, during a WSOP event a few years back. Duthie makes a bet on the river with a pair of tens. A bluff of some sort, considering the board and the hands Gus can have in this spot. If you look closely at 0:37, you will notice John Duthie’s blink rate shoot way up, a sign he is under a higher level of stress.
Also, if you’ve been paying attention to my other columns, you might have noticed that he rubs the back of his neck and also licks his lips, both signs of high stress. Add to that a “fake smile” (at 0:59), it’s pretty clear to me that he is weak here, and really does not want Gus to call.
Unfortunately, Gus drops the ball here and folds, missing completely all the signs. And yeah, Norman Chad should review his poker tells skills, because John is really giving it away in this hand. 🙂
Paul Christoffersson at the WSOP
Check the hand first:
In this hand, amateur player Paul Christoffersson is involved in a hand with Australian player David Saab. On the turn, Christoffersson makes a bluff reraise with Js8s on a Ad3dKd2h board and Saab has to decide if he plays on or not.
Let’s pay close attention to Christoffersson blink rate at about 1:25 of the video. We don’t get to see much if him but for the 3-4 seconds we do get to see, there is a huge increase in his normal blink rate. Again a sign he is experiencing abnormal stress.
As always, treat each play differently
So be careful when making conclusions about pacifying displays. They are signs of stress not of weak hands. But the thing to remember is that once a player displays a pacifier, like a high blink rate, you can usually associate that behavior to the type of hand he had (weak or strong).
Here’s what one of my students, “ Assassinato”, had to say during the last WSOP concerning blink rates:
“I was playing with a #1 ranked online player, and you could tell what he was opening based on his blinking rate! I learned from the videos here that that was soothing gesture; it showed that your heart rate was going up. He looked so comfortable playing nothing. When he blinked rapidly as he raised, I knew it was because he was excited he actually had a hand. Sure enough, every time the cards got turned over, he had a very real holding. I was able to stay out of so many bad spots that would normally have busted me.”
How’s that! The tells are out there, pay attention and you will find plenty!